I was loving the new Dave Chappelle's Block
Party movie until Wyclef Jean brought me quickly out of
my emersion in hip-hop/comedic heaven with that old crippling
false optimism offered to the young. He gave them more of that
tired stuff about how you can't "blame the White man,"
"nothing is holding you back," "work hard… stay
in school… go to college…" and you can make it! All lies,
every word and he knows it.
Shoot, he had just finished singing to them his
song "If I Was President" in which he explains "I
would be elected on Friday" and "assassinated on Saturday."
But we are conditioned to tell those lies. We can never honestly
or plainly speak to the young (shit, or the old!) about a systemic,
structural impediment to equality. It is eerily similar to
the way we cannot speak openly or honestly about Black "leadership."
And no one is more guilty of this kind of self-censorship than
I. It was almost as bad as trying to watch this new show about
"race shifting" and hearing a White man in Black-face
express his anxious anticipation of getting his first Black-on-Black
use of the word "nigger," or is that "nigga?"
No, no, it was almost as painful as watching members of the
Congressional Black Caucus use their State of the Black Union
panel time to tell us that we need to unify and support
Covenant while not explaining to their loyal Black audience
that they have yet to till their own fields in that respect.
Wait! But the worst of all, however, was driving
to work and listening to Michael Eric Dyson use his new Radio
One WOL AM talk-radio show to pleasantly interview the Manhattan
Institute's prize negro John McWhorter. It was simply too much
for my tired and weary sensory receptors. That was the one
that did it, that took me over the edge. Clef is a brilliant
artist, the television show is, well, a television show. But
Dr. Dyson is a self-proclaimed societal critic, an expert in
Blackness and a spokesperson for Black America. He has very
publicly alerted us to his presence and leadership. No, no.
His actions are just simply worse in this case.
What this all has in common is a refusal (or inability)
to properly, and/or publicly, expose the existence of systemic
oppression and just how it works. This weakens us in perpetuity,
by the generation. Dyson has by now positioned himself, not
without skill or talent, as a ("the?") Black intellectual
spokesman. He has, with super publication abilities, thrown
down the gauntlet and said "I will carry the team coach!"
He is fast approaching the remaining pantheon of "untouchable"
Black public figures and more than that - by noticing his increasing
appearances on shows like Democracy Now! - Dyson has
also been selected by the White Left as a ("the?")
Black-community spokesman. This means his willingness to engage
a McWhorter further magnifies that negative impact on our community
and further legitimizes McWhorter to his real audience -
the White conservative right. And it was splendid Black
talk radio theater.
The two had a multi-segmented friendly back-and-forth
with existing but softened disagreement measured equally by
congratulatory phrases of "but I love him anyway."
Dyson would softball loft flowery statements about socially
and economically constructed inequity and then leave McWhorter
to smash these out of the park with his fraudulently humble
soft-spoken denunciations of these views as not addressing the
real problems of Black cultural tendencies toward laziness.
And even while mentioning his work for the The
Manhattan Institute, so as to forever protect against a
lack of full-disclosure, McWhorter was never taken to task for
exactly what that means. Dyson passed on a wonderfully proper
opportunity to use that teachable moment to expose these academic
"Trojan Horses" to borrow from Dr. Martin Kilson's
By the way, since McWhorter was also invited by Dyson to make
weekly visits to the show might we dare suggest he offer at
least that much time to a Kilson? Then again, why bother with
long-standing Black intellectual leading figures when White
corporate hired-guns are available?
What Dyson needs to use his time and influence
for (among other things) is the exposure of McWhorter-types
lurking among us eager to take White conservative think tank
money to explain our poverty and inequality as being the result
of our own cultural flaws. McWhorter is the Black-face needed
to sell us pigs' feet. He is paid well to colonially administer
"scholarship" meant to lubricate the social-policy
legislative piping, making it easier for the Manhattan Institute
to achieve its goals. Those social polices, described in the
pages of Black Commentator as the "Bright
Line" issues against which this White right elite moves,
often have their juridical justification penned by the likes
of Manhattan Institute think tank academics, like McWhorter.
This is about, as is explained quite clearly by the title of
their own recent collection of essays celebrating the Institute's
25th Anniversary, Turning
Intellect Into Influence.
In this MI anthology Tom Wolfe happily tells the
tale of a former World War II British fighter pilot, Anthony
Fisher who, fearing the encroaching socialist movement in Europe,
establishing in England the Institute for Economic Affairs to
promote free-market ideology. His fears were not of politicians
but of "powerful ideas, such as Marxism and Darwinism,
that changed the course of history." And in 1978 he established
that institute's North America cousin, the Manhattan Institute.
Their goals? To promote "scholarship" targeted at
influencing the influential to do their bidding, i.e. attack
welfare, explain inequity as minority-group-pathology, promote
law and order, etc. What results, according to legal scholar
Bell - one named in that anthology among the liars to be
watchful of - are national "policies towards blacks"
which if "revised to require weekly, random round-ups of
several hundred blacks who were then taken to a secluded place
and shot, that policy would be more dramatic, but hardly different
in result, than the policies now in effect, which most of us
feel powerless to change."
Where does this powerlessness derive? It is,
Fanon noted, an "apathy so universally noted among
colonial peoples… [resulting from] the reproach of inertia constantly
directed at ‘the native' [which is] utterly dishonest."
In this case it is the dishonest inertia created by, on the
one hand, the White conservative right using nominally Black
"scholarship" to, as Manhattan Institute spokesperson
Peter Drucker explains, perform "a think tank's job"
which is to "change minds." On the other we have
Michael Eric Dyson refusing his own claim of Black leadership
by accepting as relevant and legitimate that institution's prize
negro representative McWhorter.
From where is our Black resistance to come if
corporate America's spokespeople get equal run on "our"
airwaves invited by "our leaders," and, furthermore,
invited as friends? Well, this requires us to revisit the question
of "our." That this show (and I do mean "show")
takes place on "our" Radio
One is of no small consequence. I know my beloved hip-hop
is controlled (excluded) from Radio One by Mary Catherine Sneed
(who likes to be called "MC") the 53 year old White
woman from Alabama with a background only in country music who
determines that network's station play lists. And as BC
has called our attention to Back republican Cathy Hughes, owner
of Radio One, has decimated Black investigative journalism by
piping in ABC News and promoting more "talk radio."
(See BC, "Who
Killed Black Radio News?") Uninformed talk radio.
And in this most recent example, dangerously uniformed talk
radio. Hey? Has Glen Ford, Executive Editor of The Black Commentator,
been asked on Dyson's show? Of course not. He's not a corporate
But I also know that in this political climate
it is ideological suicide to not offer some kind of solution
(even if empty or impossible, somehow it makes us all feel better).
It brings us that needed optimism I mentioned above. So here
is that suggested solution for Dyson to go along with the previous
suggestion that he make at least equal time for a Dr. Kilson.
Dyson can read aloud the late Dr. Amos Wilson's chapter "The
Policy-Formation Process" from Blueprint
for Black Power. The chapter begins with quite an accurate
description of "policy" and its purpose:
"We may refer to policy rather informally
and imprecisely, yet pragmatically, as ‘the rules of the game,'
as ‘the rules of power' used to organize, direct and regulate
the activities, the production and consumption of the resources,
internal and external social relations and institutions of a
society in order to defend and advance what it perceives as
its overall interests."
And, as Wilson explained regarding think tanks,
their "intellectual output" is "utilized to inform
and shape the thoughts and behavior of the media and politicians."
Dyson, of them all, is best positioned to understand and resist
this. But no. He is now in full participation of the process.
But I know, I hear you. To some the idea of reading an entire
chapter on air I am sure sounds boring. But with his fiery oratorical/preacher
skills Dyson could make this good radio, he could pull it off
I know it. He could even throw in a rap verse or two as he
likes to do.
Chappelle took time in his film to highlight a
lyric from Dead Prez, one that I might suggest for Dyson; "The
White House is the [crack] rock house, Uncle Sam is the muthafuckin'
pusherman, what I got to do to make sure you understand?"
Or, perhaps more appropriately, another Dead Prez verse, "My
momma work all her life and still strugglin', I blame it on
the government and say it on the radio, and if you don't already
know, all these Uncle Tom ass-kissin' niggas got to go!"
Or perhaps Dyson could simply offer like-time to those who can
properly explain what to McWhorter seems unexplainable (save
for innate Black inferiority) how it is that the most rancid
filth of our cultural expression is made popular.
Dyson loves rap music and reminds us of that
every chance he can. McWhorter says he does not much care for
rap but discusses it because today "you just have to."
But neither properly explain or explore how that cultural expression
is so highly managed and to what political end. McWhorter has
said on The Bob Costas Show that hip-hop glorifies violence
and so ignorantly displays the Black cultural inferiority that
plagues us and prevents community improvement. And if the "gangsta"
stuff wasn't enough of a problem he comes back more recently
and trashes "conscious
rap" too as empty and so devoid of politics or activism
that "it offers nothing to the struggling black woman with
children trying to make the best of things after her welfare
time limit runs out." Neither does free-market-capitalism
or tax cuts for the top 1% but, hell, if Mos Def can't lyrically
lead the revolution then forever let him be damned!
In his most recent Op-Ed McWhorter in similar
fashion takes aim at Aaron McGruder, creator of The Boondocks.
He chastises McGruder for his "juvenile politics"
and says that these politics make "good theater."
"But," McWhorter wonders, "in 1963, the march
on Washington demanded desegregation and voting rights. What
exactly would the people at the gates be asking for today? If
most Great Society programs did not work, what magic cure is
white America holding back today?" McWhorter's deluded
lie against history and contemporary reality is what Chappelle
has said of certain kinds of high-quality racism, "it's
magnifique!" It really is good. It is not an easy point
to correct, particularly in the typical highly concise moments
It's a structural reality in mainstream media
that McWhorter-types exploit to the hilt. Spout a bunch of
soft-skulled conventional wisdoms and duck and dodge, interrupt
or disrupt your opponent if one is provided or simply wait out
the time when alone. Never worry, commercial media has made
sure we never get more than a handful of minutes before the
"next commercial break." It's an intellectual rope-a-dope
that need only last briefly. Then boom! One more popular sound-byte
and off to get that Institute pay check. But Dyson is just
who we would think could be a withstanding force, and after
all, it's his damn show! But, again, all we got were pretty
sounding rhetorical flourishes said simply so Dyson could pass
a lie-detector test if asked "well did you offer any disagreement?"
Largely, however, McWhorter was given free reign to make his
points against the slightest resistance.
And, most importantly, there absolutely are long
lists of unmet grievances we "people at the gates"
are asking be addressed. One with which I am most closely associated
involves the hip-hop both Dyson and McWhorter discuss whether
out of love or obligation. So, here is another suggestion;
have my colleagues at Industry Ears, Lisa Fager and Paul Porter,
or DaveyD or even lil' ole' me help explain to Dyson, McWhorter
or others how a 4-company "musical OPEC" (as described
by Greg Palast) ultimately determines what we hear and see musically
and what impact this has. Let us explain with meticulous detail
how it, in fact, is mostly elite-White-men who are able to determine
or manage popularity and the global image of Blackness. Even
conservative, elite, power player Zbigniew Brzezinski has noted
how US dominance over global media and entertainment industries
is what will set this country apart from empires of the past.
Both Dyson and McWhorter need late passes on this one. Given
this media environment and structure all popularity is fraudulent
to the extent that it is generated by a tightly interconnected
If McWhorter is genuinely interested in discovering
structural impediments to, or "magic cure[s]," for
Black progress and is at least willing to suffer through discussions
of hip-hop out of absolute coerced necessity, then Dyson should
challenge him to discuss the industry that selectively signs
and promotes one form of the expression over others; how payola;
play lists; copyright; media consolidation; and a historical
legacy of misshaping Black popular image to justify that community's
exploitation all conspire today to leave us with a highly managed
Black popularity conducted via the mechanism of a hip-hop and
larger music/entertainment industry. Anyone who thinks we have
devolved from a Paul
Robeson to a 50 Cent accidentally needs a real awakening,
one they should be getting via Dyson. If the stance to not
accept the presence at all of McWhorter-types is too heavy, then,
and my point ultimately here is, challenge him. And if Dyson
cannot we have those who will.
Dyson certainly could have alerted McWhorter (if
he in fact does not know) that Black America does have remarkable
agreement on key central issues - those highlighted as "Bright
Lines" - not to mention any number of other problems regarding
education or how about mass
incarceration? And that there are "magic cure[s]"
being withheld by White America and almost all of them are tucked
nicely away in unwritten or unsigned legislation or all the
public policy never developed due to the crushing influence
of corporate America's think tanks and their negro henchmen
My CBC Monitor colleague Leutisha Stills has more
properly dealt with this elsewhere but let me add that this
is precisely the problem with members of the CBC using their
time at the State of the Black Union to accept praise from Tavis
while offering an appearance of unanimity.
But as we have begun alerting folks to the fact that there hardly
is such uniformity among CBC members in terms of these Bright
Line issues and this disunity has everything to do with corporate
money poisoning that body much like it has poisoned academia,
public policy and even Dyson's show. Congressperson and CBC
member Sheila Jackson-Lee, while promoting a need for Black
America to unify politically so that she and the CBC could be
empowered to enact Smiley's Covenant, did not see it fit to
mention that she just entered our defined Black consensus
after wallowing with a C-grade on our first report
card. And Mel Watt, as reported by my esteemed colleague
Ms. Stills, has already noted that even an A-grader like himself
cannot instill CBC unification, which says what about corporate
ability to divide a Black Caucus?
We have no luxury of offering McWhorter-styled
buffoons more time than they already get to be those White right
spokespeople. Dyson is guilty in this instance of what I once
wrote to Tavis after seeing him genuflect before Wal-Mart CEO
and Tavis Smiley Show sponsor H. Lee Scott - to his credit
he even read my comment on-air (thanks bruh!). That it is quite
the media trick to claim a tough one-on-one interview with someone
when in reality it is a public relations opportunity for that
person to dismiss claims against them in a largely uninhibited
manner. It is not the same as, say, having someone expertly
expose that guest/subject or to at least have qualified opponents
there to dispute defensive claims made by that guest. But even
to offer tough questions to a respondent still allows them to,
in an unfettered manner, respond as they like. To reshape the
spin. All of this done, of course, in highly concise moments
Dyson has any number of qualified people to whom
he can reach out to dispute, dismiss and/or discredit a McWhorter.
Not only is he not performing this basic task of a Black leading
intellectual but he is, in fact, performing the exact opposite
by giving McWhorter time (now weekly?) to promote a White right
agenda and to be a Black-faced spokesman for an absent White
elite whose very existence McWhorter can then use his
"blackness" to refute. Our need is for the space
of a Dyson show or a Radio One network to be used to inform
Black people against the harmful McWhorter-faced propaganda
happily given space anywhere from NPR to Fox News. His Black
anti-Black rhetoric will forever get play in commercial, corporate,
White media. We have no time nor the luxury to attempt "balance"
in such a highly imbalanced society. Dyson should, if he doesn't,
A. Ball, Ph.D. is a professor of African American
and Media Studies at the University of Maryland and Frostburg
State University. He is a co-founder of CBC Monitor, co-host
of The Blackademics on Pacifica's WPFW 89.3 FM in Washington,
DC and the founder/creator of FreeMix Radio: The Original
Mixtape Radio Show whose history and details can be
found at voxunion.com.
Ball is also the managing editor for the nation's first academic
hip-hop journal which is part of the larger non-profit work
of Words, Beats and Life, Inc.
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